A Brief History

A Brief History

During August, 1840, preliminary meetings were held in Iowa City by those interested in the organization of a Presbyterian Church. On September 12, 1840, commissioners from the Presbytery of Schuyler met here and effected the organization of this church. Reverends Launcelot G. Bell, Leonard Freely, and Michael Hummer, the latter from Rock Island, Illinois, composed the commission. Thirteen people were enrolled as members. John McConnell was chosen ruling elder and Dioadate Holt, deacon, the only name on record to hold that office until many decades later.

Until a permanent location was secured, services apparently were held in various places:  the Choate schoolhouse on Market Street just west of the English Lutheran Church, in Berry’s School house at College and Clinton Streets, the Mechanics Academy on the east side of City Park, occasionally in the barroom of Butler’s “State House” on Washington and Clinton Streets, and in the Legislative Chamber of the new Capitol Building.

In 1844, the congregation decided to build a permanent house of worship. Chauncey Swan gave the lot (although that was later disputed and the church forced to find money to secure it), located at the corner of Market and Clinton Streets (“Old Brick”). By September 7, the building was so advanced that services began to be held in the basement. The building was of brick, 42 by 75 feet, with a Grecian portico.

In 1849, elders were ordained and installed as the session of the church.

In the early years of the church, the first building was destroyed by fire and the second sustained severe wind damage when a magnificent steeple was blown off. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, much discussion was had regarding whether or not to renovate the existing building or relocate the church from its original downtown location to a new location on Rochester. Maintenance of the century-old building had become an issue, as had lack of parking. The decision to move to the new location divided the congregation, not only in regards to the move but also in regards to whether to work to preserve “Old Brick” or not.

In 1975, the 1856 cornerstone from the old church was moved and relaid at the left of the entrance of the new building. The 1975 cornerstone was laid to the right of the entrance. In addition to managing the sale or preservation of various church furniture and items, recommendations were made regarding memorial designations. The following were made:  Ryerson Fellowship Hall, Coover Lounge, and the Willis Educational Wing. Additionally, the stained glass medallions, the lectern, the communion table, and more items were removed from Old Brick and installed in the new building.

In 1977, the new Phelps organ was dedicated. Designed specifically for First Presbyterian Church, it was constructed and installed by Lawrence Phelps, an internationally recognized authority who had built and installed pipe organs in many diverse locations.

Also in 1977, an agreement was finally reached between First Presbyterian Church and Old Brick Associates, an organization created to preserve Old Brick. It is now used for many community functions and non-profit activities. The University of Iowa Board of Regents holds the exclusive right to repurchase the property should Old Brick Associates be dissolved or go into bankruptcy.